IS THE DIY SMART HOME POSSIBLE?

DIY smart home

Visit your local PC World or Curry’s and you can’t miss the displays of smart home goods from the likes of Nest and Phillips Hue, while hardware such as Amazon’s Echo has been built to act as a smart interface for running an increasing number of these web-enabled technologies.  

Ocado and John Lewis, those bastions of middle-class aspirations, are in on the act too, creating dedicated zones on their websites: Ocado Smart Home and John Lewis SmartHome.

Apple has recently joined the fray, building a dedicated ‘Home’ app within iOS10 to centralise control of the growing legion of smart home devices entering homes.  This is an interesting move because putting aside any personal feelings towards Apple, the company has a successful track record of popularising technologies developed by others by cleaning up integration and simplifying the interface.

Why? Because smart home technology is desirable, futuristic and comes with an inbuilt 'wow' factor that people love.

The DIY smart home?
So is it possible for the tech hobbyist to build a smart home with off-the-shelf products?  The short answer is yes - but there are a number of significant question marks.  Yes, you could source these products in a piecemeal fashion, and control them either via proprietary apps or bridging control tools such as Apple Home.  This could be perfectly acceptable for smaller and less complex smart home installations. 

The problems occur because of the level of integration and complexity needed to make smart home technology a seamless, enjoyable experience.  This problem quickly scales up the more tools and solutions are involved. 

For example, a smallish home which required lighting, heating and security control could be handled by an individual with a reasonable technological expertise.  But as the complexity scales up, the joy could quickly turn into a headache.

No one wants to spend hours updating software and firmware, and subsequently troubleshooting incompatibilities that result from changes being made.  No one wants to check wiring when something stops working, or painstakingly remove devices that may be causing the system to fall over.

Paying the price
Smart home technology is about simplifying and enriching our lives through technology.  Unfortunately, the price to pay is a deep level of complexity that consumers don’t want to see.  Amazon is so effective because we never see the “wiring” and the dull but crucial logistical co-ordination required to make it work.  If customers were exposed to these mechanics, the experience would be far less enjoyable.

The same is true of smart home technology.  People love using it, but few derive pleasure from meddling with its inner workings.

Smart home technology is maturing.  The interfaces are improving, the tools are becoming easier to use, and as big consumer brands such as Apple and Amazon get involved, the integration will surely become easier too.

But for homes that require more than a basic set-up, adding in elements such as kitchen appliances, audio/visual, automatic blinds, remote access etc., the skill and time needed to ensure all these elements work harmoniously makes it prohibitive.

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